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Reasonable Hardware For Home VM Experimentation? 272

Posted by timothy
from the reasoning-with-hardware-always-a-risk dept.
cayenne8 writes "I want to experiment at home with setting up multiple VMs and installing sofware such as Oracle's RAC. While I'm most interested at this time with trying things with Linux and Xen, I'd also like to experiment with things such as VMWare and other applications (Yes, even maybe a windows 'box' in a VM). My main question is, what to try to get for hardware? While I have some money to spend, I don't want to, or need to, be laying out serious bread on server room class hardware. Are there some used boxes, say on eBay to look for? Are there any good solutions for new consumer level hardware that would be strong enough from someone like Dell? I'd be interested in maybe getting some bare bones boxes from NewEgg or TigerDirect even. What kind of box(es) would I need? Would a quad core type processor in one box be enough? Are there cheap blade servers out there I could get and wire up? Is there a relatively cheap shared disk setup I could buy or put together? I'd like to have something big and strong enough to do at least a 3 node Oracle RAC for an example, running ASM, and OCFS."
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Reasonable Hardware For Home VM Experimentation?

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  • Dell XPS Studio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drsmithy (35869) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (yhtimsrd)> on Sunday March 22, 2009 @06:54PM (#27292247)

    Dell currently have the Studio XPS (2.66Ghz Core i7, 3G RAM, 500G HDD) going for US$800 - for a basic home virtualisation server, it's hard to go past, especially if you spend another US$80 or so to bump the RAM up to 9GB. I can't imagine you could build it yourself for a whole lot less (depending on how you value your time, of course).

    (Damn, sometimes I wish I lived in the US. Stuff is just so bloody cheap there.)

  • by ya really (1257084) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @06:57PM (#27292293)
    I currently run VMware Workstation with an Intel Q6600. VMware has a setting to choose to use one or 2 of the cores. Generally, for Linux VMs, one core is enough (unless you decide on GUI). If one goes for Windows Vista/7, 2 is better for performance, but one works okay for XP.

    Ram is dirt cheap right now on Newegg as well. I have 8gb of Corsair ddr2 ram I got for 50 dollars after rebates. Non GUI, you can get by with 384-512mb of ram, but otherwise, id go with at least 1024 or more.

    The nicer part of VMware Workstation is it now supports Directx 9.0c (but with only shader level 2, still working on 3). Expect a 10 or so perecent in performance droppage though for gaming depending on how many resources you allocate.

    Your needs look a bit bigger than mine (mostly trashing VMs and running test software before doing something crazy to the actual box). A bigger CPU such as a Xenon might be more to your liking, since you can have 2 of them for a total of 8 cores (leading to lots of VMs).
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @07:00PM (#27292337) Journal

    You can run virtual instances on practically anything. I use VMWare Workstation on an older AMD Athlon 3200+ (the machine on which I'm typing this) and get acceptable performance if I only have one instance booted at a time. You're not going to be playing video-intensive games on the instance, but it'll work find

    I maintain a few websites (my blog, a gallery, couple other things) on an old server class machine in the garage. Companies often scrap servers after the 3 year warranty expires, or they've finished depreciating (depending on individual business rules) and they're often fast enough to make reasonable virtual servers. Often you can pick them up at a scrap sale or surplus store, or, if your company has an IT department, get permission to snag a machine that's about to be scrapped.

    I recently brought up VMWare's free bare-metal hypervisor ESXi and was surprised at how easy it was to set up and create instances. VMWare has a free Physical-to-Virtual converter you might want to experiment with. It works great with Windows, but is kinda hit-and-miss with Linux.

  • Not that much (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Beached (52204) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @07:05PM (#27292393) Homepage

    You can do it "well" on a dual core with 4GB of ram. Even less, but with todays prices you can get a system for a couple hundred if you watch for sales. RAM is you biggest killer that you will notice. Then again, with quad cores with VM assistance going for under $200CDN, thats relatively cheap. If you're worried about HD performance a couple 500GB drives striped will give you over 100MB/s of read speed a relatively small investment.

  • by higuita (129722) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @07:15PM (#27292481) Homepage

    we have about 4 machines with 2 quadcore running ESX and about 100 machines (many linux and windows) and 64GB of ram in each esx node... and we have still about 50% of resources free

    so grab one quad core machine, with lots of ram (for oracle RAC+ASM+DB you will need at least about 4GB for the 3 RAC nodes, the more the better)

    as this is for testing, i would but a plain quadcore PC, with 6 to 8 Gb of ram, install a linux 64bit with xen or vmware esxi

    if you have more money, you can buy more ram or even cpu, but you dont really need a blade nor a server, a plain PC will do

    ohh i forgot... HD, buy at least 2 HD, to spread the IO load, if you want raid, then you need 4 HD for a raid10... you can also try iscsi with a openfiler based nas/san (another PC, with lot of HDs and several gigabit network card)... of course, the server also need several gigabit network card to increase the IO bandwidth of iscsi

    have fun

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2009 @07:50PM (#27292789)

    Not necessarily. Look up "relaxed co-scheduling." It's been in there since around 2006. (Another reason why VMware outperforms the others.)

  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @07:53PM (#27292803) Homepage

    You say you want to go "cheap", that you don't want to spent too much money, yadda yadda... and then you go on to mention things like "cheap" shared disk and "cheap" blade servers?

    What you realistically need and want are two different things.

    I'd suggest a cheap quad-core AMD Phenom II system with 8G or so of RAM. Nothing too fancy. that I assume you're going to be running a Windows host OS, or VMWare ESX. More RAM will be needed for the Windows host OS, obviously.

    Absolute lowest-end hardware you'd want to look at getting is an AMD Athlon 64 x2 or Intel Core (IIRC) based system. In other words, you want/need the VT support, or it'll be purely an emulated environment, and substantially slower than native (30%?), not just marginally (10%?).

    I recommend AMD hardware because it's got a better price/performance point, and because unlike the other stuff in the "reasonable midprice" range for Intel, it's got the memory controller/north bridge integrated into the CPU (for newer gen stuff). I'd say go Phenom or Phenom II without any hesitation.

    With a CPU like this [newegg.com], there's no reason you couldn't build a full system for around $450-500, sans storage. You could probably find a suitable "starter"/deal system for $300 from TigerDirect that'll do the job just fine with a little more RAM and another drive.

    For disk, just go with an SATA RAID card (LSI are good) and 3 1Tb disks. That's about as cheap as you'll get and still have room to work.

  • Re:How about... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2009 @08:17PM (#27292991)

    Virtualization Shmirtualization!

    Just do what this guy did [howtonotma...online.com].

  • Don't go overkill. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GiMP (10923) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @08:44PM (#27293205)

    I run a VPS hosting company, my job is to research, setup, and maintain a cluster/grid of servers running Xen with hundreds of guests (virtual machines). For testing and even for deployment, we've used machines as simple as a single-core AMD 3800 with 80GB disks in RAID-1, and 1GB of RAM. These aren't the most profitable machines, as they can only support as many virtual machines as can pay for the electricity and square footage, but they work perfectly fine for up to approximately 12 guests. I do highly recommend a dual-processor or dual-core system, though.

    If you want to know how much you can stress a system, for highly-dense numbers of guests, I try not to load more than 15 guests and 2GB of RAM per CPU core. Of course, if you plan to have a low-density of guests (say one guest per core), you'll need to adjust accordingly.

    I found that for my home office, where I often have pretty excessive needs such as installing multiple operating systems and performing multiple large compiles at the same time, a dual quad-core system with 16GB of RAM is overkill. Right now, I'm using a single quad-core workstation with 8GB of RAM and it works pretty well for me, and is probably still a bit more than I need.

  • Re:8 core Mac Pro (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2009 @09:17PM (#27293475)
    I often run 3 or 4 on my laptop at the same time with no problem.
    1 is a web server (linux) for dev testing.
    1 is a photo album server (winxp) for sharing my pics with friends and family.
    1 is a VM (winxp) I dedicate for downloading stuff off the net (BT, IRC).
    1 is a VM for browsing sites and connecting to work. This one erases everything when I shut it down, in case I get any crap-ware from browsing.

    The only thing preventing me from running more would be that my laptop only handles 3GB of memory and 4 VMs plus my host applications get close to reaching that limit. And swapping sucks.
  • by spinkham (56603) on Sunday March 22, 2009 @11:54PM (#27294395)

    Memory, and lots of it. Nothing else will help as much for running multiple VMs.
    Memory is dirt cheap, I recently bought 8 gigs of ECC ram for ~100 USD. Of course, over 3-4 gigs, and you need a 64 bit OS, I use Ubuntu 64, but I know others who use Vista 64 to good effect.

    At least 2 cores, 3 or for doesn't hurt either. There's great value in both AMD and Intel at the moment, Intel owns the top end, but at the low end or midrange AMD tends to have the better value.

    If possible, get a separate drive for at least your main OS, and run the VMs off their own drive. More spindles == more IO, I run 6 drives in my box, one for the OS, and 4 raid 5 for my homedir for speed, capacity, and safety, and one drive bay I swap out for a spare I keep offsite that holds my backups. Linux software raid is great for this use, and with modern multi-core processors you won't notice the overhead.

    If you can only afford maxing out one thing though, make it the memory.

  • Drive Controllers (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 23, 2009 @01:00AM (#27294753)

    In terms of VMWare, depends on whether you are going to try to use VMWare Server or ESXi.

    ESXi is very picky about hard drive controllers, and somewhat picky about NICs, but well give you better performance than VMWare Server.

    ESXi claims to support only 2 SATA controllers - Intel ICH7 and Broadcom HT1000. From experience I have also used it with a Promise SATA300 TX4 controller. I *think* it may have recognized the nVidia controller in one of my systems, but I am not 100% certain.

    The biggest issues to consider beyond the hard drive and NIC controllers is how many VMs do you plan on running at the same time?

    The more you run at the same time, the more RAM you need. In addition, you will find that as one has more simultaneous VMs, access to local disk becomes a huge performance issue (more so than simple bandwidth - the virtualization layer kills I/O performance to local disk). If you want to run several simultaneous VMs and keep your performance up, you will either want SCSI with multiple LUNs or multiple SATA drives with each VM stored to a different drive.

    Hardware virtualization for the CPU is required by some hypervisors (Xen, for example requires hardware virtualization if you are not using para-virtualization). VMWare ESXi does not require hardware virtualization - though I suspect that it performs better with the hardware virtualization.

  • Re:8 core Mac Pro (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crazybit (918023) on Monday March 23, 2009 @02:09AM (#27295027)
    that's because it was a PowerPC box, try doing that with the new core2 Apple boxes.
  • Basically, as long as each virtual node isn't doing any WORK, you don't need any special hardware. And even if they are doing some work, but just not a lot. We have 5 Linux Xen VMs in production on a 1600Mhz Celeron with 768MB of RAM, works fine, no problems.

    The CPU is almost irrelevant - you'll need whatever CPU you'd need to do all the things you're doing, plus some overhead, but it's not like it falls apart.

    RAM is the only critical thing. You need at least 96 MB for the host and 24MB for each additional live Xen VM, as I recall (That's probably not precisely right) But you'll naturally be swapping a ton if you do that. A more reasonable VM has 128M - 256MB of RAM itself, so you need that for each active VM. But again, that's only for each one running at a time.

    Or if you are going to swap a bunch, get better disks :)

    In any case, I definitely wouldn't climb the price curve of equipment to do this; don't buy anything on the bleeding edge - look at arstechnica and just max the RAM on a value box - or maybe upgrade the MB to something that takes more RAM.

    Used, commodity computer equipment is usually not price effective compared to the cheap end of what's still available new. But pay attention to the price point where it's cheaper to get (and power, while they're on) TWO value boxes than to pump up the one box you've been thinking of higher.

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